What makes a good meal? Is it aromatic spices and harmonic flavors? Or, is it flavorful ingredients passed down from generation to generation?
Chef Pati Jinich believes that the quality of the dish lies in the sazón—that unique taste achieved only by cracking the code. It’s that special something that gives Mexican food its distinctive personality. “It may just be an extra dash of salt or cooking something a little bit longer,” explains Jinich. “The same dish can be made by ten different people, but one person really took the time to cook it all the way or add that extra little bit of salt. That’s what makes a dish stand out—the time, care, and attention.”
The Jewish Mexican cuisinière offers more than 150 recipes full of sazón in her new cookbook, “Treasures of the Mexican Table: Classic Recipes, Local Secrets” (Mariner Books, November 2021). Jinich considers it more ambitious than her previous two cookbooks.
“It has incredibly delicious dishes that are approachable and easy to make and that you can make your own,” says Jinich. “It’s just a book full of delicious, accessible dishes that you’re going to want to include in your weekly meal rotations. The best part of it is that along with the dishes comes a story that will enrich your table just as much.” Her favorite recipes include the salsa macha, a tomato-scallion-and-cheese soup, and a traditional mole from central Mexico.
“The best part of it is that along with the dishes comes a story that will enrich your table just as much.”
Born in Mexico City, Jinich comes from a long line of food aficionados. Her paternal grandfather came from a tiny shtetl in Poland. His diet primarily consisted of pickled herring, fried herring, boiled herring, potatoes and white onion. Jinich’s grandmother was able to find her sister, an Auschwitz survivor, through the Red Cross. After she was recovered, Jinich’s great-aunt Annie opened the very first Austrian bakery in Mexico.
Originally trained as a political analyst, Jinich studied at the L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She shares her wealth of knowledge as the Emmy-nominated host of “Pati’s Mexican Table.” Currently in its tenth season, the award-winning series follows the culinary artist as she journeys across her homeland. Jinich expresses her boundless enthusiasm for Mexican food to audiences around the world.
“Oh, it is just so full of life and stories,” notes Jinich. “It’s so diverse and rich. We’re such a treasure trove of wonderful ingredients.”
Jinich finds cooking therapeutic. That being said, it’s not easy balancing writing cookbooks with filming a television series and raising a family.
“I don’t balance anything! Who said I balance? I don’t!” laughs Jinich. “Everything is completely combined and mixed because I don’t balance.” Part of the cooking show is filmed inside of her kitchen at home. Jinich tries to schedule her travels when her children and husband have time off. “My work, my family, and my personal life are very combined.”
Jinich’s overall cooking philosophy involves walking two paths. The first path involves honoring and respecting everything she has inherited—“the recipes that have been passed down, the techniques that have been taught to us,” as well as “the proper use and care of ingredients.” Jinich explains that she tries “to preserve all those heirlooms and treasures and lessons and keep them alive and pass them on. But, at the same time, I always open a window for exploration and for a new air to come in.” The second path may lead her to try a new dish with a beloved ingredient. “So, I always do those two things,” says Jinich. “Respect and honor what we have, but also leave room for something new.”
Eve Rotman is a writer on the West Coast. Follow her on Twitter @EveRotman